Bifacial PV Systems: Page 5 of 5

Module nameplate power rating. Today, STC ratings for bifacial modules are based on front-side performance only, which obviously fails to capture the effects of bifaciality. To reflect the fact that bifacial electrical properties vary in proportion to back-side irradiance, manufacturers will also provide some version of Table 3, detailing performance characteristics at different levels of bifacial gain. The manufacturers leave it to the designer to decide how to apply these data. Since back-side irradiance has no impact on open-circuit voltage and has a negligible impact on voltage at maximum power, the real design consideration is the potential for higher currents.

Industry stakeholders around the world are actively developing a consensus on standard testing procedures for rating bifacial PV modules that the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) will eventually publish as IEC 60904-1-2. Researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), for example, have proposed flash-testing both sides of bifacial PV modules and using these flash test data to derive a compensated short-circuit current value. Additional indoor and outdoor testing is under way at NREL and Sandia to determine the accuracy of this approach.

Production modeling. Perhaps more important, the industry needs bankable methodologies for modeling bifacial system energy production in the field, a requirement complicated by the fact that field conditions have an inordinate impact on bifacial system performance. Performance models need to account for rear-side shade effects associated with mounting structures and adjacent rows of modules, which will vary considerably both over the course of a day and from one application to the next. Ground-surface albedo is another consideration. This can change seasonally, when snow covers grass or dirt, or over time, due to soiling effects. The albedo for a white roof membrane, for example, might be 80% when the membrane is newly installed but only 50% after it has spent a few years in the field. Research also indicates that rear-side irradiance is also nonuniform, meaning that it varies across the back of the array.

Because of all these factors, field test results are essential for developing and verifying the accuracy of bifacial performance models. Unfortunately, many laboratory test beds consist of only a few rows of modules, which are often spaced out to minimize self-shading. These results tend to overestimate performance in larger systems, especially in applications where rows are more tightly packed together. This creates a chicken-and-egg scenario. To optimize design variables, such as ground-cover or dc-to-ac ratios, you need a sophisticated production-modeling tool. But to develop an accurate production-modeling tool, you need field data—and the more of it, the better.


David Brearley / SolarPro / Ashland, OR /


Cuevas, Andrés, “The Early History of Bifacial Solar Cells,” 20th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference (EU PVSEC) Proceedings, 2005

Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Bifacial Solar Photovoltaic Modules, September 2016

Lave, Matthew, et al., “Performance Results for the Prism Solar Installation at the New Mexico Regional Test Center: Field Data from February 15 to August 15, 2016,” Sandia National Laboratories, SAND2016-9253

SolarWorld, “How to Maximize Energy Yield with Bifacial Technology,” white paper, 2016


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